As Israel and Saudi Arabia continue to inch their way towards peace, a member of the Israeli weightlifting team that was the first to compete in an athletic tournament inside the desert kingdom shared his experience and hopes for the future.
David Litvinov was a member of the four-man team that competed in the 2023 World Weightlifting Championships in Riyadh in September. The delegation openly represented Israel under the Jewish state’s flag, while on a mission to secure a spot in the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics.
“It was very special for us, because it was the first time an Israeli delegation could officially be in Saudi Arabia, and it was very exciting because of that,” said Litvinov.
“We found ourselves celebrating Rosh Hashanah there, also celebrating a new chapter in relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and it was very special for us to be part of it,” he continued. “We were allowed to go out of the hotel and see Riyadh, the security guards took us every place we could find on the internet, tourist spots.”
Asked how the Israeli delegation’s participation in Riyadh came about, Litvinov, who competed in the 109 kilogram category, said, “Part of the way to qualify for 2024 Olympics is to take part in international competitions, and one of them is the championship in Saudi Arabia. They realized they had to let us compete, otherwise they would have to withdraw from hosting the competition.”
Israeli sporting officials made contact, and the Saudis “gave us everything we needed to make this happen,” he said.
“It was no surprise, everyone knew we were coming there to compete.”
Other members of the Israeli team were Artur Mogordomov, Nikol Rubanovich and Celia Gold. All four placed between 20th and 30th place in their individual weight categories. Qualification for the 2024 Summer Olympics will be based on points earned from this and future tournaments.
Litvinov added that he looks forward to the day when Israel will be able to host Saudi athletes.
“If Saudi Arabia comes to Israel, they will feel the same as we felt coming to their home. There’s a lot of love and warmth Israel can show the world. And it can be very heartwarming to host a delegation from Saudi Arabia and give them the love that Israel can give,” he said.
Israel’s participation in the event in the Sunni Muslim kingdom comes amid other historic signs of warming ties between the two countries. In the past week, Israeli Tourism Minister Haim Katz became the first Israeli cabinet minister to make an official visit to Saudi Arabia. He traveled to the kingdom to attend a conference of the United Nations World Tourism Organization and mark World Tourism Day, celebrated annually on Sept. 27.
Katz’s visit was followed this week by Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi arriving in Riyadh at the head of Israel’s delegation to the Universal Postal Union’s 2023 Extraordinary Congress.
Said Litvinov, “I’m very excited to see the relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel warm up, and if we could contribute a little bit, not only in diplomatic way, but in the way people look at this normalization, that’s amazing, and I am really proud that we could be even a little part of it.”